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Garfield High School Staff Maneuvers To Keep Teacher In Their Building

Kyle Stokes
Garfield High School students frustrated over the possible transfer of a teacher out of their school testify before Seattle School Board members at a meeting in December.

Garfield High School's administration submitted a staffing plan to Seattle Public Schools Thursday that's strategically designed to prevent a teacher from moving out of the building for the second half of the school year, according to a leader of the school's PTSA.

District officials had asked the school's administrators to identify the equivalent of one full-time teacher who would move to another school at the end of the first semester. They said Garfield High School's final enrollment numbers came in well short of predicted levels and the teacher is needed elsewhere.

But instead of identifying one teacher, Garfield High School PTSA co-president Kirk Wohlers said the school named five teachers who could each leave the school for one class period each.

The logistics of having teachers go to another school for just one class period a day would be a huge challenge, Wohlers said — and he said that's partially the point: to offer a solution so difficult that it forces the district to allow Garfield to keep its staff at current levels.

"Is this a way to game and beat the system? It is," Wohlers said in an interview. "But is it the right thing to do for the students? I think the answer is 'it is' as well."

Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Stacy Howard confirmed the staffing plan named five teachers who would leave the building for one class period. When asked whether the district would accept that plan, she said discussions were ongoing.

Finding Equity In Times Of Enrollment Uncertainty

The potential loss of a teacher from the building has generated public outcry, prompting students to testify at Seattle School Board meetings and even to walk out of classes in late October.

Seattle Public Schools officials have acknowledged moving a teacher mid-year is not ideal, but superintendent Larry Nyland said it's the most equitable solution for a district facing a staffing crunch.

"We have overestimated district enrollment for the past three years," Nyland said in a November letter. "That means that we have hired more teachers than we have revenue for. In addition, some schools are up in enrollment and expecting more teachers — making the budget issue even harder."

Garfield parents and advocates have also taken issue with the district's enrollment numbers themselves, saying the policies for counting students and staffing schools are flawed. They have suggested the district could use reserve funds to keep the teacher in place for the remainder of the year, but in his letter, Nyland said such a move wouldn't be fiscally prudent.

Gaming The System

Is it possible the district could respond that the school wasn't abiding by the spirit of its staffing request?

Sure, Wohlers acknowledged. But he said cutting a teacher endangers Garfield High School college transcripts. A Garfield dean told the school board earlier this month the loss of a teacher could endanger students' class schedules.

"It didn't matter what teacher you took away," Wohlers said. "If you take away a teacher at the high school level... that literally means these kids won't have the graduation requirements to finish school."

Five other Seattle schools face the mid-year loss of a teacher, while higher-than-expected enrollments mean eight schools will see larger staffing budgets.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.